New Atheism – A game of smoke and mirrors

4

Sabahat Ali Rajput, Missionary, Mexico

“When one with honeyed words but evil mind persuades the mob, great woes befall the state.” (Euripides, Orestes)

What happens when those who carry the torch of scholasticism and science conveniently extinguish its light when investigating God? While New Atheists take great pride in their so-called academic approach to investigation, a perusal of their literature reveals that their denunciation of God Almighty is replete with a rich variety of logical fallacies and an unabashed use of unscientific methods of enquiry.

The most prominent New Atheistic authors have mastered several nonacademic – and indeed in the scientific world – laughable techniques (Glausser Wayne, The Rhetoric of New Atheism, Paper published under DePauw University) in a shrewd attempt to confuse their readership and exploit the average person’s ignorance about religion. They seek to totally demonise religion in the eyes of the public, thereby inciting and fostering hatred, outrage, and doubt regarding the existence of God.

Paralepsis

The term paralepsis (to brush something aside as insignificant or unworthy of consideration – used as a technique to avoid answering a question) is derived from its Greek original, which literally means to pass over something purposefully while treating it as unimportant. When speakers use this technique, they make it seem as if something is not even worth mentioning when, in fact, by passing over it lightly, they intend to draw deliberate attention to it, often with the intent to malign. Take the following sentence as an example:

“Let’s forget 9/11. Let’s just brush the London Bombing and numerous shootings in the US under the rug, because the word Islam, ladies and gentlemen, means peace.”

Here, all three qualifying allusions to these acts of reprehensible evil and mammoth magnitude have nothing to do with the actual teachings of Islam. Yet, capitalising on the venomous lies that have taken residence in the minds of many Westerners, a new atheist will pass over them nonchalantly, when in fact, the intention is to sow a dangerous seed of misinformation in the process.

Of the many rhetorical devices used by New Atheists, paralepsis is the easiest for them to use and can mete out severe damage, because several falsehoods can be packed into a single statement, so that even if time allows for one allegation to be reconciled, others can simply get lodged as “fact” and latch parasitically onto the minds of the audience.

Another example of such illusory deception is provided by the case of Alain de Botton, author of Religion for Atheists. In this book, right from the onset, he totally dismisses the entire question of “whether any religion is true or not” as something obvious and trivial. He begins his book by passing absolute judgement upon every religion in the world.

Nihilistically, he declares, “… let us bluntly state that of course no religions are true in any God-given sense.” (Alain de Botton, Religion for Atheists, Vintage Books, New York, 2012, pp. 1-2)

The “Four Horsemen of the NonApocalypse”: Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris

One might dare to ask whether Mr Botton has even studied the original sources of more than one religion, let alone solicit wherefrom he has earned his whimsical powers to pass outright and unequivocal judgement on the divinity of every single religion in the world. Such gargantuanly sweeping statements expose a dangerous imbalance against the New Atheists’ claims to being champions of unaffected research.

Paralepsis also stands upon another nearly unassailable pedestal – it totally rules out consideration of any supporting evidence, imposing a totally unconfirmed point as fact upon its readers. Here, for instance, Alain utilises this method to serve a two-pronged purpose. Firstly, he uses the word “of course” to feign an astonishingly false facade that the matter has long been resolved and agreed upon, and that the falsehood of all religions is incontrovertible.

Secondly, in a similarly covert manner, he subliminally invites his readers to join his elite club and be part of “us”, giving up their own individual spirit of critical examination of these questions – “let us bluntly state” – trying to give the reader the impression that he and the reader are already on the same team. (Wayne Glausser, The Rhetoric of New Atheism, Paper published under Depauw University)

Similarly, Daniel Dennett, another household New Atheist personality, also treats the subject with the same contemptuous air of triviality and condescension, quickly brushing it aside. He writes: “Many of us brights [i.e. ‘bright’ minds, or atheists] have devoted considerable time and energy at some point in our lives to looking at the arguments for and against the existence of God … as if they were trying to refute a rival scientific theory. But not I. I decided some time ago that diminishing returns had set in on the arguments about God’s existence, and I doubt that any breakthroughs are in the offing, from either side.” (Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, Penguin Books, 2016, pp. 26-27)

A constantly recurring pattern in this technique of paralepsis is the brazen and pronounced absence of fair investigation. One must bear in mind that these are the very people who subscribe to the scientific method as their intellectual bedrock. Yet, a deeper look into the rhetoric of these self-styled methodological notables reveals a disappointing disregard for the well-known principles of the scientific method. Where is the measured reason, the calculated logic and the patient investigation? When it comes to Islam, some New Atheists, blinded by their hate for religion, are willing to totally compromise and neglect the fundamental groundwork of scientific investigation in the process of criticising religious people for making the same mistake. Mr Dennet unapologetically admits that he “did not … devote considerable time and energy to looking at the arguments for and against the existence of God.”

After this, what is left of the much touted ideal of fair-minded investigation? How can a person who has simply “decided” that there is no God without conducting a fair investigation, criticise those who have “decided” that there is a God without scientific proof? Mind you – Islam declaredly rejects both and labels them not just an academic error, but sin as well. Is this really a pull in the direction of education, academic rigour and critical thinking? As a philosopher, he must surely know that even after a philosophical conclusion is reached, it should constantly be challenged.

Here, New Atheists like Mr Dennet like to play the “fairy card”, committing the logical fallacy of equating the belief in God to belief in magical folklore and the fabled existence of fairies. Thus, a New Atheist might argue:

“[W]ell, fairies don’t exist. Does that demand that I constantly check my garden to make sure that a fairy has not turned up?”

This argument – if it can even be called an argument – is often used by the Four Horsemen and is a discernable logical fallacy.

Firstly, billions of people in the world do not profess any faith in the existence of fairies as the original and ultimate cause of the universe (unlike God being the Creator of the universe).

Secondly, the existence or non-existence of fairies is simply not a serious subject of discussion for the average person, nor is it relevant to the beliefs of the vast majority of mankind, whereas the concept of God is subscribed to billions.

Thirdly, the graveness of not accepting the existence of a God Who wishes to be recognised cannot be compared with the existence of fairies, or any other fabled creatures.

The former proposition is highly consequential – the question of whether a Conscious Creating and Controlling Force is governing the universe, while you would be hard-pressed to find a dozen souls who profess faith in fairies.

Hence, the argument of comparing God Almighty – the Creator, Developer, Sustainer and Perfecter of the Universe – to fairies is a strawman fallacy if ever there was one. In Arabic scholasticism, this is known as qiyas ma‘a al-fariq, or the logical fallacy of comparing two totally different things.

Childish and arrogant rebuttals like this cast a revealing light on the frivolity with which these gentlemen have sought to deal with the subject of the existence of God and lay bare their biased approach. Yet, simply out of respect for their fellow humans, if they had but tried to understand what it is that believers in God posit, perhaps it would have enlightened them to some extent.

One might ask Mr Dennet of his opinion of a hypothetical believer, who, in his investigation of the existence of God, “decided” (to use Mr Dennet’s expression) that:

“Many of us blessed ones [believers] have devoted considerable time and energy at some point in our lives to looking at the arguments for and against the existence of God … as if they were trying to refute a rival theory to faith. But not I. I decided some time ago that diminishing returns had set in on the arguments against God’s existence, and I doubt that any breakthroughs are in the offing, from either side.”

No doubt, Mr Dennet would be in the forefront criticising such closed-minded thinking and would pointedly call out the blindness and ignorance of religious people.

Evidently, barba non facit philosophum, “the beard does not make the philosopher”. The truth is that a person who harbours preconceived and rigid convictions will carry out his research accordingly. One who investigates with zeal and passion, leaving no stone unturned enjoys a privileged perspective insofar as his scope and experience regarding the subject is concerned. Alas, atheists have tried too hard to confine the Creator of the universe to the asphyxiating confines of their microscopes.

To confine all human erudition and enlightenment to the test-tubes and crucibles of a laboratory is to condemn entire realms of reality and millennia of human experience to oblivion. It is therefore imperative that we submit before our atheist friends that God Almighty as presented by the Holy Quran is not a god who should become a test-subject to the whims and caprice of our intellects, but is a being which is – and indeed must need be – the Most Subtle of all things conceivable.

That is not to say that His existence and attributes should run contrary to rationality, but that the faculties used to recognise Him must also include those which existed before the large hadron collider and other forms of bleeding edge technology. Hence, He must be sought accordingly. More about the methods of investigating God as per the Holy Quran shall be dealt with in future submissions, but for now, the unworthy author leaves the readers of Al Hakam with the following exposition of Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmadra:

“Let us also consider the case of a philosopher and a seeker after truth, both of whom set out for the same goal – i.e., to find out about God’s existence – but with completely different intentions. The philosopher tries to use his knowledge and wisdom to ascertain whether or not the universe has a creator.

“Even if he comes to the conclusion that God does exist, he will not bother to find out His attributes or His relationship with His creatures, for this is not his aim. His aim is only to satisfy his intellectual thirst. He is not desirous of communion with God, nor anxious for His nearness, nor craving for His friendship. He does not have the desire to reach Him, nor does he care to know of His Will.

“A seeker, on the other hand, aims at reaching God. He wants to have communion with Him and desires His friendship and nearness. He is anxious to know of His Will, so that he can follow it. Can we put the philosopher and the seeker on the same plane? Of course not.

“The first step, therefore, is that one should set one’s intentions straight and seek God like a seeker, not like a philosopher. He should first evoke yearning and passion in his heart for these qualities are essential when seeking the truth.

“Consider this: If a child pulls a certain face and asks its mother if she could produce any milk for him so that he may feed upon it, would this bring the milk into the mother’s breast? On the other hand, the child to cry and scream with hunger, would this not spontaneously bring the milk surging into her breasts? In the same way, God does not reveal His face to a philosopher, rather He runs far from him because He does not want to become a toy of the philosopher’s whims.

“But when a seeker seeks Him, He comes close to him, for He is more Compassionate
and Loving than a mother and does not want His true seeker to remain in darkness and be ruined. This may seem strange indeed. A philosopher and a devotee both seek God, yet God stays aloof from the philosopher and draws nearer to the devotee.

“In seeking God, you should never tread the path of the philosophers, for you can never reach Him that way and your quest will bear no fruit. Moreover, why should we bother to find God if, having found Him, we are not going to do anything about it.

“Should we spend our time, devotion, and energy merely to find out about the so-called existence of God? Such knowledge can even prove harmful because after having ascertained his existence, remaining unconcerned about God will make us double offenders. God will never reveal Himself to us through such efforts. He will only appear to us when He sees that we genuinely desire Him.” (Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmadra, Our God, 2007, Islam International Publications Ltd. pp. 31-33)

It is only when we realise that different faculties of human investigation exist to ascertain and recognise different aspects of reality that we can start to fairly investigate God Almighty. After all, is the person who throws his lover under an electron microscope to ascertain whether she loves him or not anything but a madman?

“One who never anticipates deceit or expects duplicity, and yet is the first to recognise such things – is that not a sage indeed?” (Confucius, The Analects)

In the next issue, we shall explore some painfully unscientific claims of New Atheists about Islam – particularly regarding the Holy Prophet Muhammad’ssa knowledge of secular sciences.

It is not just philosophers like Daniel Dennet whose approach to investigating God drips with unprincipled bias and premature conclusion. Indeed, even Richard Dawkins, who for decades has blown the trumpet of the need for conducting fair investigation, research and purely academic methodology, as he boldly proclaims in a BBC interview, “I see my role as trying to persuade people to think for themselves and look at evidence.” (Richard Dawkins on Islam, Jews, Science and the Burka, BBC Newsnight, Evan Davis speaks to Richard Dawkins)

Yet, such words slip into an abyss of forgotten nothingness when it comes to God. The truth is that he has altogether brushed aside the need for real investigation into Islam. How curious that when it comes to Darwinian rhetoric and genetics, Dawkins has demonstrated great regard for careful investigation.

When it comes to the subtlemost genomes, Mr Dawkins is willing to endure astounding patience because he truly believes that it will unravel scientific truths. Yet, when it comes to the idea of God, he has hardly given a second thought to His existence.

Apodioxis

Apodioxis has been defined as an emphatic rejection or dismissal of an opponent’s argument or an opposing proposition. For example, when Dawkins is asked, “What are the five best reasons why there is no God?”, he smugly replies, “What are the five best reasons why there are no fairies?” This deceiving proposition has been dealt with at length in part two of this series of articles. Without answering the question, he slips past the onus of presenting five sound arguments against the existence of God and attempts to distract his audience with the totally erroneous illusion that the existence of God and fairies is contemporaneous in nature. It is fun houses of mirrors like these which New Atheists orchestrate and puppeteer with finesse and flair.

Another aspect of apodioxis as used by New Atheists relates to the sweeping, melodramatic and unfounded claims they make about religions and their founders. What is astounding is the slick manner in which New Atheists will circumvent answering the question and just vilify the opposing view, entirely abandoning reason, rationality and fact for fibs, fabrications and fables.

Important note on Muhammadsa as a medical man

Take, for instance, the example of Christopher Hitchens – evidently, the King of Apodioxis – when he unabashedly declares:

“Today, the least educated of my children knows much more about natural order than any of the founders of religion.” (God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, Hachette Book Group Publishing, 2007, pp. 66-67)

Alas, Hitchens’ deliberate refusal to investigate religion honestly has cast him into a cavern of ignorance. If he had but studied the most authentic and famous of all the books of Islamic Traditions, the Sahih of Imam Bukharirh, he would have thought twice before making such an absurd and irreverent comparison. It must be borne in mind that despite the lack of education and availability of medical knowledge among the desert-dwellers 1,400 years ago, the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa declared, for instance, that the medicinal qualities of Nigella Sativa (known as kalonji in the Indian subcontinent) “are a healing for nearly all of your ailments and illnesses except death.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, The Book of Medicine, Chapter 8 – Treatment by Black Cumin, Hadith 10)

Considering the latest research on this subject, this ancient declaration is astonishing. After all, what investigative or scientific technology did the Founder of Islam have at his disposal that he could have proclaimed such a thing?

One must bear in mind that his words were acted upon and followed to the letter by thousands and so, countless traditions also exist of him prescribing various herbs and other foods to treat an array of ailments, with remarkable success.

An honest perusal of just two books from BukhariKitab al-Tibb (The Book of Medicine) and Kitab al-Taharah (The Book of Cleanliness) offers ample evidence of the remarkable expertise of the Founder of Islam about the natural order of the world.

One must also remember that, all along, the opponents of Islam were constantly on the lookout for any opportunity they may have had to try to disprove any statement of the Prophetsa. Yet, no authentic narration exists where these eager opponents have even tried to challenge the medical knowledge of the Holy Prophetsa, despite the traditions being replete with his various ingenious prescriptions.

On the contrary, Jews and Christians would themselves present their medical needs before him, asking for a remedy or treatment. One is totally baffled at the extent to which educated scholars like Hitchens have allowed their exaggerated biases to cloud their judgement and have, as a result, made such sweeping and unsubstantiated claims as the one quoted above.

After all, what laboratory resources did the Holy Prophetsa possess that he could confidently declare a single spice or food to be a source of healing and treatment for nearly every ailment?

Today, modern science is just beginning to realise the great depth and far-reaching truth of such medical statements of the Holy Foundersa of Islam. From being an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antianxiety and anti-depressant, to an antibacterial, anti-viral, anti- fungal and antiparasitic, the various uses of Nigella Sativa in its different forms are truly wondrous. It also combats histamine intolerance boosts Immune functions, and has been proven repeatedly to have incredible effects on different cancers. (Potential adjuvant effects of Nigella sativa seeds to improve specific immunotherapy in allergic rhinitis patients, Medical Principles and Practice: International Journal of the Kuwait University. Accessed 21 December 2017; www.ncbi.nlm.nih. gov/pubmed/20357504) (Can methanolic extract of Nigella sativa seed affect glycoregulatory enzymes in experimental hepatocellular carcinoma?; Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine, Accessed 2 December 2017; www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/ pubmed/22767221)

Nigella Sativa seeds are also proven to help protect against heart disease, increasing testosterone levels, helping with asthma, rhinitis and other respiratory difficulties. They are also anti-diabetic, neuroprotective, natural painkiller, aid in treating osteoporosis and arthritis, as well as eczema and other skin conditions. They protect the kidneys while preventing kidney stones.

Furthermore, they are an anti-septic, conducive to male fertility, anti-epileptic, radioprotective and highly effective in the treatment of opioid dependence. Their phytochemistry reveals a staggering number of effects in laboratory environments, from possessing a hypoglycemic effect to being effective in treating gastrointestinal complications including ulcers. (A Review of Medicinal Uses and Pharmacological Activities of Nigella Sativa, Department of Biological and Medicinal Sciences, The Aga Khan University Medical College, Karachi, Pakistan, Asian Network for Scientific Information)

This is but one example from a long list of truly astounding medicinal statements of the Prophet Muhammadsa. Yet, people like Mr Dennet seek to deceive their readers into believing that founders of religion were totally ignorant of the realities of nature by making extensive and unfounded claims about them.

The truth is that the Prophet Muhammadsa was a brilliant compendium of knowledge when it came to the natural sciences. His revolutionary teachings about spirituality notwithstanding, he brought the desert Arabs out of their degenerate state of deplorable hygiene and turned them into soaring exemplars of physical cleanliness and civility.

From using water to cleaning oneself after the privy (something that much of the civilised elites of today are still ignorant of), to the medicinal uses of dozens of natural plants, honey, leaves, herbs and seeds, to his numerous remedies for various ailments, his minutely recorded life stands boldly in contrast and indignantly in contradiction to such uneducated statements about him by his biased detractors.

Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmadrh, the Fourth Successor to the Promised Messiahas, refers to yet another brilliant observation which could not have been conceived by a desert Arab 1,400 years ago. He writes:

“This … is fully endorsed by a tradition of the Holy Prophetsa in which he strongly admonishes people not to use dried up lumps of dung or bones of dead animals for cleaning themselves after attending to the call of nature because they are food for the jinn.

“As we use toilet paper now, at that time people used lumps of earth, stones or any dry article close at hand to clean themselves. We can safely infer therefore, that what he referred to as jinn was nothing other than some invisible organisms, which feed on rotting bones, dung etc.

“Remember that the concept of bacteria and viruses was not till then born. No man had even the vaguest idea about the existence of such invisible tiny creatures. Amazingly it is to these that the Holy Prophetsa referred. The Arabic language could offer him no better, more appropriate expression than the word jinn. (Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmadrh, Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge and Truth, pp. 363-364)

One must bear in mind that New Atheists like Hitchens seek to entertain atheists as well as infuriate believers. Such statements issued forth from the mouths of the academic hallmarks of our society are astonishingly against the basic principles of academic research and investigation.

On one occasion, Hitchens goes so far as to say that “all attempts to reconcile faith with science and reason are consigned to failure and ridicule.” (Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, Hachette Book Group Publishing, 2007, p. 65)

For a man who advocated education for so many years, one is left astounded at how closed-minded and non-progressive his views are. For him to forever slam the door of trying to reconcile religion with faith is directly contradictory to what he apparently spent his life preaching and practicing.

It is true today more than ever before that the audience of New Atheists are often atheists first and scientists after. This dangerous order of precedence is no less intellectually lethal and spiritually debilitating than those who are criticised for being believers first and scientists second.

The truth is that Islam propounds an inextricably interwoven and ingeniously interdependent relationship of academic symbiosis between the faculties of rationality and revelation. It rejects the rejection of science and scientifically substantiates the need for revelation – indeed, it is this very relationship betwixt the two which birthed the Scientific Islamic Golden Age, without which the fundaments of European enlightenment would simply not have existed.

As Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IVrh, in his magnum opus, Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge and Truth, explains, “During that period, although Muslim enquiry was predominantly influenced by Quranic teachings and the traditions of the Holy Prophetsa, it could not be entirely qualified as Islamic. There was a rapid proliferation of academic growth in all directions. Many new philosophies and sciences were acquired from past eras of secular, academic and scientific achievements.

“Also, many a new branch of religious and secular knowledge was pioneered by some outstanding Muslim thinkers. Thus, religion and rationality went hand in hand. They drew their thrust largely from the emphasis on the pursuit of knowledge laid in the Quran and the instructions of the Holy Prophetsa. The role of rationality was so powerfully highlighted that religious belief and rationality became synonymous.” (Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmadrh, Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge and Truth)

It is this bridge between the two faculties of revelation and rationality which Islam seeks to reconstruct, so that the science of spirituality and the mystic realms of science may combine to usher in another thousand golden eras of erudition and wisdom along with the technological advancements of today.

It was well over a century ago that the founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslims Jamaat, the Promised Messiahas declared:

“In this time, God Almighty has not just confined religious affairs to fables and speechmaking but has deemed faith a science. This is precisely why this is the age of scientific discovery; a time where every matter is presented academically. I have been sent for this very reason – to present the historical accounts of the Noble Quran and religious beliefs in an academic manner. (Al Hakam, 10 April 1902, p. 6)

“The first gulp from the glass of natural sciences will turn you into an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass, God is waiting for you.” (Werner Heisenberg)

4 COMMENTS

  1. A wonderful piece, brilliantly written. The vast scale of ignorance on this crucial topic is truly alarming, coming so greatly from those who claim expertise on the subject. May the truth prevail.

  2. Religions, atheism, paralepsis and digesting its meaning, and the existence of God – this article is perfectly written! Looking forward to reading part 2!

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